Members of UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union make an offering of origami cranes at the camp cemetery. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Following is Part 2 of our coverage of the 48th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, held April 29 at the Manzanar National Historic Site in Inyo County.
Over the years, Manzanar has garnered several national awards. Just last year, Manzanar was recognized with the Organization of American Historians’ 2016 Stanton-Horton Award for Excellence in National Park Service History.
In addition, two volunteers, Saburo and Ann Sasaki, were honored with the National Park Service’s Hartzog Enduring Service Award for their volunteer contributions to Manzanar.
This year, Jeff Burton, Cultural Resources Division chief, was recognized with the Society for American Archaeology’s Award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management, a prestigious award that is rarely given to a government archaeologist.
“I’m really proud of Jeff,” said Superintendent Bernadette Johnson. “Jeff is the person who knows the most on staff about the cultural resources and cares about not just the resources here, but at all the confinement sites. It’s pretty fun to see him finally get the recognition that he deserves because he works in silence, so for him to be recognized by his peers and to have him on staff is just incredible.”
Mary Farrell, Burton’s wife and former archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, described the award as “timely” and like Johnson, felt the award elevated the profile of Manzanar.
“We were really pleased that he got this, not so much for him, but for archeology and Manzanar and for the other sites too,” said Farrell.
The archaeological digs at Manzanar have also been able to incorporate public participation by non-archaeologists.
Cherston Lyon, associate professor of history at CSU San Bernardino, has been bringing a group of students from the History Club to participate in the archaeological dig for the past five years.
Lyons said she started the program after Burton allowed her children to assist the rangers during a visit to Manzanar.
“I was here with my kids, and they let us jump in and participate,” said Lyon. “I was so excited that they let untrained people participate so I asked if I could bring up my students the next year.”
Since then, the CSUSB students have made it a tradition to come over spring break.
“The students love it, and they work really, really hard,” said Lyon. “And usually the students who come, who’ve never been here before, are so energized that they end up being the presidents and vice presidents of the (History) Club the next year. It’s incredible how it energizes people and makes them find a connection between their history classwork and something that’s real, that they can touch.”
As for Burton, he played down his role in his characteristic manner. “It was a great honor,” he said. “I think it’s important because it helps get the message across of what we’re trying to do. A lot of people that didn’t know about Manzanar know now because of that award.”
Madelon Arai Yamamoto was grateful to Burton and the staff for uncovering the fish pond that her father, Jack Hanshiro Arai, and his friends had built. Initially, the pond had been covered over with sand and no remnant remained visible.
“Jeff was persistent,” said Arai Yamamoto. “I told them that I know there was a fish pond and for them to dig deep.”
Since the uncovering in 2011, Arai Yamamoto donated funds so there is now a sprinkler system, five newly planted apple trees and grass. She said during the war, the pond also had carp, perch and minnows that her father would bring over while permitted to work out in the Inyo range, but the current pond will not include fish.
Arai Yamamoto was only nine when the pond was built, so she did not physically help build it. “I did feed the fish once they were there,” she said. “And I would watch the level of water because my father built that little waterway and if the water level was low, I’d turn on the faucet.”
She recalled that many others had helped to construct the pond. “People would come after their work day, and they enjoyed doing it. It was just a happy time for them. And many people would come to look at the fish pond.”
Participants in Manzanar At Dusk gather at Lone Pine High School.
More than 500 people participated in the Manzanar At Dusk, which was coordinated by students from CSU Long Beach, UCLA, UC San Diego, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Juli Yoshinaga, granddaughter of Rafu columnist George “Horse” Yoshinaga, represented the students as this year’s Inter-Nikkei Collegiate Council president. She first came to Manzanar two years ago.
“I was moved by the beautiful landscape of Manzanar but shaken by the scars that it caused our community,” said Yoshinaga. “Visiting Manzanar vastly expanded my knowledge on the reality of the incarceration camps and the unjust treatment that people went through.
“Personally, having family that have been incarcerated, I felt a deeper connection to my roots and a sense of understanding and a need to learn more that I wished that I had felt more when my grandfather, George Yoshinaga, had been alive.”
Traci ishigo, one of the emcees of the pilgrimage program, said, “As a young Nikkei, I’m here with each and everyone of you as a responsibility to get grounded and present with the stories of our community as a road map for what we must do, what we must build, what we must show up for together because at this moment in time, I’m really reflecting on what our community’s legacy will be at the end of these four years.”
This year, there was a bus from the Fellowship Monrovia Church. John Williams, the director for the Fellowship Center of Racial Reconciliation for the church, said they have been focusing on the Asian American experience at their church and have had Chinese American and Korean American leaders come to speak.
“We do different cultural events to help our congregation learn more about each other and so our biggest focus is on teaching each other how to have conversations with each other and how to be reconciled,” said Williams.
Regarding his first impressions of Manzanar, Williams, an African American, said, “As we were pulling in, I just had this deep sadness because I understand. When you think about incarceration and internment and think about how similar they are even today with so many African Americans being incarcerated. I can definitely relate to the Japanese American experience, so for me, the initial feeling was just deep sadness.”
Among the Manzanar Pilgrimage participants, there were three — Stan and Christine Asoo Umeda and Marielle Tsukamoto — who had just returned from a Topaz (Central Utah) Pilgrimage.
“We got a day and a half of rest and came down with the Florin bus,” said Stan Umeda.
The April 19 issue of The Rafu noted that this Topaz contingent was planning to return a sealed crate to Topaz that had been passed down to Toru Saito and hadn’t been opened for 72 years.
At the newly built Topaz Museum, Saito and Kiyoshi Ina opened the crate at a ceremony attended by about 100 people, including the town mayor. What came out was a floral-patterned mattress.
On this trip, the Umedas also returned a box to Topaz that had been in storage for the Watanabe family, from Stan’s maternal side. He and his family had been imprisoned at Jerome in Arkansas and Gila River in Arizona.
“About the year 2000, we got items out of storage and one of the items was a box that had been sent back from Topaz into storage,” said Stan. “It was not a professionally built box but one that was cardboard-lined with rough lumber, and it said on there, ‘From Topaz WRA’ to the storage company, so I was most anxious to open it up. What I found in there was a whole box full of wool blankets.”
“It wasn’t just wool,” said wife Christine, whose family was imprisoned at the Marysville (Arboga) Assembly Center, Tule Lake and Topaz. “They were like comforters, and they were very colorfully designed with blue, green, light yellow, very pretty. They were not standard blankets.”
The Umedas, however, threw the blankets away due to mold and donated just the crate. They also donated two archival boxes of Topaz newspapers and personal papers.
While the Umedas admitted they were tired, they were glad they attended the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
“What I’ve seen of the new things that are here now — the fire station, the latrine — I think it is one of the best replicated of all camps, and they’re going much further than the other camps, so if anybody were to visit a camp, Manzanar is it,” said Stan. “It is one of the best to visit.”
“We hope the other camps will be able to replicate something similar,” said Christine. “The Topaz Museum was really wonderful but it’s smaller.”
Included in this year’s pilgrimage was a traveling exhibit on Tuna Canyon, on display in Block 14.
Kanji Sahara, one of the exhibit organizers, said they’ve had successful showing at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, San Diego History Center, and Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
“I think we’ve had a good reception,” said Sahara, who noted that the exhibit is slated to be shown next in Santa Barbara, at CSU Fullerton and at the Portland Nikkei Legacy Center.
Floral offerings are made to Manzanar’s Ireito (soul-consoling tower).
This year’s inter-faith service did not include the traditional incense offering by the public.
Mo Nishida voiced his displeasure at this break in tradition. “The priests can do the service but the offering of the flowers and incense is for the people,” said Nishida. “They should let the people do this.”
To be continued